Even without the unfortunate ‘attack’ on Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister and the head of the Trinamool Congress, the election in the state was hogging the national headlines. For, the BJP had succeeded in a very short time in emerging as a credible challenger. But the incident on Wednesday evening in Nandigram, the nondescript town in Purba Medinipur district, provided an inkling to what may lie ahead as the campaign gathers momentum in the eight-phase polling.
Mamata had spent the entire day here, going around the assembly constituency, offering prayers at various Hindu and Muslim places of worship before winding up the day’s programme. In between, she had filed the nomination papers in the presence of a large crowd. As the video-footage shown multiple times revealed, it was at some stage while getting into the car that she seemed to have hurt herself. She certainly appeared to be in pain.
Yet, even if accidentally injured, her political instincts did not desert her. Without batting an eyelid, she cried ‘conspiracy’, suggesting the attack was the handiwork of her opponents (read BJP), that four or five persons had pushed her, and so on and so forth. That she, a Z+ protectee, and her own Police Minister, always surrounded by multiple rings of security cover, could claim with a straight face that ‘four or five’ persons had come, pushed her and vanished into thin air defied credulity. But it is politics, and that too West Bengal politics. Who would know better than Mamata how to milk such ‘attacks’ for generating sympathy.
After all, in the early 90s, it was one such attack, though far more credible, that had catapulted a then little known Youth Congress activist as the foremost leader in the state who would go on to frontally challenge the deeply entrenched Left Front, eventually replacing it in power in 2011. Now, three decades later, she herself feels under a siege. And the uncharitable would suggest the time to mock up a couple of ‘attacks’ for milking voter sympathy.
Of course, her injury is genuine, but there is no evidence it resulted from some devious, dark plot or a conspiracy. The most plausible explanation is that, surrounded constantly by the security personnel and supporters and curious onlookers, her foot got crushed in the melee in the door while she tried to clamber into the car. Several eyewitnesses have corroborated the above version. Besides, not one of the multiple TV news cameras could catch a glimpse of the mysterious ‘four or five persons’ who according to her, pushed her and vamoosed from the scene.
Happily, she is recovering in a Kolkata hospital, though Mamata being Mamata she has let it be known that, if need be, she will campaign in a wheelchair. The latter presents itself as a super photo-op and must not be missed! But the problem is that even her own party men have failed to offer a shred of evidence to back up the charge of a conspiracy. Lemmings-like Trinamool Congress leaders rushed to condemn the BJP for the alleged attack. This only opens them to public ridicule. Voters are not the fools they are considered to be by the politicians.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission must disclose the findings of the inquiry it has ordered into the Nandigram incident. It is important to ensure that the poll process is not marred by any such attacks, genuine or mock. Besides, looking at the intensity of the contest, the EC should consider additional measures to prevent violence and communal strife in a highly polarised state such as West Bengal.
For, in their own way, both the Trinamool Congress and the BJP are pandering to their respective vote banks among the two major religious communities. Even in Nandigram, Mamata’s dog-whistle message was essentially directed at the Muslim voters, when she claimed firm support not only of 30 per cent Muslims but even of the 70 per cent of Hindus as well. The 30:70 divide in the West Bengal electorate will only be further sharpened as both the incumbent and the challenger take the campaign to a high pitch. The EC cannot afford to let its guard down.